China on Saturday dismissed U.S. efforts to adopt a a stronger stance toward North Korea, testing the progress Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hopes to achieve in Beijing on the final, most precarious leg of his Asia tour. Tillerson's visit came a day ...
China on Saturday dismissed U.S. efforts to adopt a a stronger stance toward North Korea, testing the progress Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hopes to achieve in Beijing on the final, most precarious leg of his Asia tour.Tillersonâ€™s visit came a day after he warned of using â€œall optionsâ€ against North Korea, reversing the tactics of previous administrations and sending a direct signal to Beijing that the U.S. has not ruled out military strikes on Chinaâ€™s ally.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, standing next to Tillerson after their meeting, urged the U.S. to stay â€œcool-headedâ€ as it seeks to suppress North Korean nuclear ambitions that have reached â€œa new crossroads.â€â€œNo matter what happens, we have to stay committed to diplomatic means as a way to seek a peaceful settlement,â€ Wang said, adding that sanctions are largely an issue between the U.S. and Pyongyang.But Wang emphasized a desire for collaboration and Tillerson took a gentler tone than in his previous comments. He warned that tensions with North Korea had reached a â€œdangerous level,â€ and said the U.S. planned to work with China and others â€œto bring North Korea to a different place where we are hopeful we can begin a dialogue.â€Tillersonâ€™s trip marks the first high-level official visit to China under President Donald Trump â€” who repeatedly attacked the nationâ€™s trade practices during his campaign â€” and will set the tone for a new administration that has offered China little indication of its policies.The Texas oilman also met with a top Chinese foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi, on Saturday at the lakeside Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in west Beijing. Tillerson will see President Xi Jinping on Sunday.These meetings wrap up a six-day Asia tour during which Tillerson sought to reassure allies in Japan and South Korea of the United Statesâ€™ commitment to the region. His role in China is much different.
Tillerson will continue to lay the groundwork for a Florida resort summit between Trump and Xi in early April, and navigate Chinese leadersâ€™ concerns about U.S. policy toward Taiwan, disputes over the South China Sea and a potential trade war. The Chinese government is especially keen to maintain stability before a leadership transition this fall.Tillerson said he discussed human rights with Wang, a topic the administration has not appeared to prioritize.â€œFor Tillerson, and the Chinese largely, this trip is an opportunity to sort of measure each other,â€ said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, a Washington think tank founded by former President Richard Nixon. â€œThere are so many problems that can occur in this relationship. Itâ€™s important for Tillerson to get out there and get a lay of the land.â€North Koreaâ€™s nuclear aims feature most prominently in the discussions, particularly after Trump berated China on Friday for failing to rein in its neighbor.â€œNorth Korea is behaving very badly,â€ he wrote on Twitter. â€œThey have been â€˜playingâ€™ the United States for years. China has done little to help!â€The Chinese government â€” North Koreaâ€™s biggest trading partner and main ally â€” has for decades refused to impose sanctions that would cripple its neighborâ€™s economy out of fears of a refugee crisis on the border. Leaders also worry about the loss of a buffer between democratic South Korea and its allies.China took an initial step last month to squeeze North Korea by temporarily suspending imports of North Korean coal. But further collaboration with the U.S. is complicated by the recent deployment of an American anti-missile system in South Korea that China sees as a threat to its own security.Beijing has positioned itself instead as the mediator. It recently proposed a swap: North Korea would freeze its nuclear and missile programs in exchange for a halt of American and South Korean military exercises. The U.S. and South Korea immediately rebuffed the idea.The U.S. and North Korea â€œare like two accelerating trains coming toward each other, and neither side is willing to give way,â€ Wang, the foreign minister, told reporters last week. â€œThe question is: Are both sides really prepared for a head-on collision?â€Tillerson, while in Seoul earlier, rejected negotiations with North Korea. He was expected to warn Chinese officials that the U.S. is willing to bolster military defenses and put pressure on Chinese banks if the country doesnâ€™t do more to curb its reclusive neighborâ€™s efforts. Wang said on Saturday that China had come up with proposals for all sides to study, but did not explain them.â€œFor the Chinese, Tillerson is still a bit of a mystery,â€ said Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center in Beijing and former China affairs director on the National Security Council during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. â€œTheyâ€™re still trying to figure out who he is, what role heâ€™ll play on China policy in the White House.â€A commentary on Friday from the official Xinhua News Agency warned that George W. Bush also had threatened military options and gotten nowhere. â€œThe approach illustrated that Washington needs to talk to [North Korea], not to terrorize it,â€ the analysis said.Chinese state media largely cast the visit as an opportunity for understanding. But few analysts believe the talks will produce definitive action.â€œChina now has a very difficult diplomatic relationship,â€ said Shi Yinhong, director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University in Beijing. â€œI donâ€™t expect Tillersonâ€™s visit to make any breakthroughs.â€
Meyers is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing contributed to this report.
Rex Tillerson,North Korea,China,Asia